Whither education excellence

Quality is a casualty when it comes to several aspects of India’s progress. This coupled with the characteristic lethargy is a reason why our products as also the exports sector fail to measure up. This has impacted even India’s higher education sector and research fields – the cutting-edge areas for the creation of an advanced society. Allocation for education as a percentage of the GDP is abysmal. The result is that India’s ancient reputation in the field of knowledge — exemplified in the Nalanda and Taxila age – is simply a memory with no resonance to the present.
This thought arises in the context of the latest global ranking of universities that surfaced this week. This annual exercise has always been an embarrassment to India considering the overall low ranking our universities and technical universities of excellence get. This time, just over 20 higher educational institutions from here figure in the list of ‘top 1000’ institutions. The IIT Mumbai remained as the top best Indian institute and found its rank at 177. IIT, Guwahati, was among the few that found an impressive space while Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru held its reputation. This apart, there is little for us to crow about. American and British Universities have retained their top slots but even tiny Singapore won better laurels than India in terms of ranking.
Two aspects need special mention here. There cannot be any complaints about the salary structure for university faculty. UGC scales have been impressive for the past few decades. Pension and other benefits too are high. Universities are well-organised entities where the faculty is impressively accommodated and cared for. The morale of the academicians must therefore be high. Yet, the quality of student output is not attaining world standards. There is less emphasis on research or on technological excellence via-a-vis IITs and the like. When Indians got Nobel Prize, other than for Rabindranath Tagore or Mother Teresa, they won it by virtue of their research and study in American or other foreign universities. Having a huge population bulge at 1.35 billion is in itself a burden; more so when quality is a casualty in most respects, and worse so in the education and research sectors. This, notably, has a direct correlation with the quality of India’s overall (political) leadership. Shaping a nation towards the path of excellence is no easy job. Thrust areas need to be identified with a clear vision for the future and effective action taken. There must be life beyond vote-seeking via doles.

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